Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse, Massachusetts
Minot’s Ledge is a rocky coastal area located one mile off the coast of Scituate, Massachusetts, to the southeast of Boston Harbor. It’s estimated that here dozens of ships have been wrecked by the jagged rocks and coral which lies unseen just below the water’s surface.
In fact, in 1843, lighthouse inspector I. W. P. Lewis compiled a report on Minots Ledge, showing that more than 40 vessels had been lost from 1832 to 1841, with serious loss of life and damage to property. The most dramatic incident was the sinking of ship “St John” in October 1849, with ninety-nine Irish immigrants, who all drowned within sight of their new homeland. On the same year, Lewis emphasized the great need for a lighthouse on Minots Ledge, and his judgment was sustained by Captain William H. Swift, of the United States Topographical Bureau.
It was initially proposed to build a lighthouse similar to John Smeaton’s pioneering Eddystone Lighthouse, situated off the south-west coast of England. However Captain William H. Swift, put in charge of planning the tower, believed it impossible to build a similar monument on the mostly submerged ledge. Instead he successfully argued for an iron pile light, a structure drilled into the rock.
The ledge was barely 6.1 m wide and was exposed at low tide, being dry only 2 or 3 hours a day. On this narrow rock construction was begun in the spring of 1847 of a 23m open-work iron light structure. The men could only work on very calm days when the tide was at its ebb, and the work was conducted from a schooner which remained near the ledge, unless the sea was rough, with the workmen sleeping on board. If a storm threatened, the schooner put into Cohasset Harbor until it was over. All the apparatus was swept from the rock by two different storms in the summer of 1847, and even though workmen were swept into the sea several times, none was drowned.
So, in 1850 the first lighthouse was constructed at Minot’s Ledge, which consisted of nine metal support beams leading up to a large metal cylinder where it’s keepers resided. It was lighted for the first time on January 1, 1850.
The first keeper, Isaac Dunham, was sure the structure was not safe and wrote Washington requesting that it be strengthened. When no action resulted he resigned on October 7, 1850. Captain John W. Bennett, who succeeded him openly scoffed at his predecessor’s fears. He hired new assistants, Englishman named Joseph Wilson and a Portuguese named Joseph Antoine, and two keepers remained at the light at all times.
A terrific storm a few weeks after he took charge, changed Bennett’s mind and he officially reported the tower as in danger. However a committee, delegated to investigate, arrived during a perfectly calm sea and returned to Boston, deciding nothing should be done.
Easterly winds began blowing around April 8, 1851 and Bennett departed for the mainland three days later. This was the last time he saw his two assistants alive.
Less than one year later in April of 1851, the newly constructed lighthouse was washed out to sea by a tremendous storm that caused damage throughout the Boston area, and killed both watchmen on duty at the time. The following day only a few bent pilings were found on the rock. One of the keepers, Joseph Antoine was found washed ashore two days after the storm in the nearby town of Hull, and the other, Joseph Wilson, managed to reach Gull Rock, probably mistaking it for the mainland, and was found on a nearby shoreline where it’s believed he survived the storm, but later died of hypothermia.
Since their deaths, sailors passing by Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse have reported witnessing the apparitions of two men who appear to signal frantically for help before mysteriously vanishing. Others report hearing the sounds of disembodied screams, and encountering the foggy apparitions of the former sailors whose ships once their demise at Minot’s Ledge.
Between 1851 and 1860 Minots Ledge was guarded by a lightship. Plans for a new stone edifice were meanwhile drawn up for the Lighthouse Board by Brigadier General Joseph G. Totten and the same location was decided upon.
In 1855 work began on a new lighthouse, which was designed to withstand far greater storms than the one that had destroyed the original Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse. Construction was completed in 1860, with a base made of solid granite weighing thousands of tons and the and the light first exhibited August 22, on the same year.
On May 1, 1894, a new flashing lantern was installed, with the characteristic of a one-four-three flash, which lovers on shore soon found contained the same numerical count as the words “I love you.” Minots Ledge has thus become known up and down the coast as the “Lover’s Light.”
Author’s note: Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in June of 1987, and although the light, that can be seen for 24 km, was automated in 1947, many still report witnessing the silhouettes of two men standing watch.
Images from web.